Like a teetotaler crashing a New Year’s Eve bash, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has asked members of the boating public who are out enjoying their fun in the sun to keep an eye out for possible maritime terrorist activity.
With recent polls showing Americans are suffering from security fatigue, it may be difficult to get boaters to listen to Secretary Michael Chertoff’s pitch to join a waterway version of “Neighborhood Watch.” Most of us see time on the water as a way to get away from the stresses of our daily lives, not to add to them.
But there are two reasons to give this request a closer look. The vulnerability of America’s waterfront is real. And the only way to deal with this exposure is for boaters to do what they do when a fellow mariner needs help: lend a hand.
The unhappy truth is terrorists have become experienced at using small boats to target large vessels and infrastructure. Before 9/11, terrorists using small vessels struck the USS Cole in Yemen. In 2002, small vessels attacked a French oil tanker off the coast of that country. Two years later, a Coast Guardsman and two U.S. Navy sailors were killed when they intercepted terrorists using bomb-laden fishing dhows intent on attacking an offshore Iraqi oil terminal.
Like the coastlines of the Middle East, the U.S. waterfront is littered with attractive targets. Refineries, power plants and chemical factories are ready-made potential weapons of mass destruction, located in some of the most densely populated areas in the country.